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“How long do I plan to stay? As long as necessary.” — a home health care worker in quarantine

Shannon Dooling Apr 21, 2020
Some home health aides are quarantining with their clients. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“How long do I plan to stay? As long as necessary.” — a home health care worker in quarantine

Shannon Dooling Apr 21, 2020
Some home health aides are quarantining with their clients. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While frontline health care workers in hospitals across the country are dealing with COVID-19, home health care workers are trying to help their clients stay out of emergency rooms by bringing health care support to the elderly and people with disabilities.

In some cases, they are choosing to quarantine with their clients.

Anna Castillo is a personal care attendant who has been working with her client, a 74-year-old woman with debilitating arthritis, for more than two years. Castillo helps her out of bed in the morning, bathes her and prepares meals.

In recent weeks, Castillo’s shifts have gone from six hours a day to 24/7.

“I’m just keeping everything under control, checking to see if she’s OK, if she doesn’t have a temperature, making sure that she takes her medication and all of the vitamins possible and avoids the world outside.”

Castillo lives just north of Boston in Chelsea, Massachusetts, with her husband. But in mid-March, she decided to move in with her client in South Boston to reduce the risk of carrying COVID-19 into her client’s home.

Even though her paycheck doesn’t reflect her new schedule, she said she felt she had no other choice.

“How long do I plan to stay? As long as it’s necessary. She wouldn’t be able to survive on her own,” Castillo said.

As a personal care attendant, Castillo is considered a direct-to-consumer home health worker and she’s paid by Mass Health, the state’s Medicaid program. She makes about $15 dollars an hour, pays out of pocket for her own health benefits and says she’s still only getting paid for six hours of work a day.

Castillo is one of more than two million home health workers in the U.S., according to PHI, a national advocacy nonprofit.

According to Rebecca Gutman with the service workers union 1199SEIU, the home health care workforce is made up largely of immigrants and women of color.

“It’s heroic work during normal times, and during the pandemic there’s a lot more fear among home care workers as they’re going to work,” Gutman said.

Unlike Castillo, many of these workers are still commuting. They often take public transportation, live in substandard housing and get by living paycheck to paycheck.

“You have one vulnerable population caring for another vulnerable population,” Gutman said, “and then they’re going into the homes of people with disabilities and elders, and doing so without personal protective equipment.”

The service workers union is collecting and distributing masks and gloves for home health workers but, said Gutman, it’s slow going, due in large part to the national shortage.

In the meantime, Castillo said, home health workers and personal care attendants are advised to screen clients daily for fever, avoid unnecessary travel and wash their hands frequently.

“Given the ramp-up of positive COVID-19 cases in nursing homes right now, probably the safest place for elders and people with disabilities to be right now is in their homes,” said Gutman. But, she stressed, that means home health care workers must have a way to protect themselves.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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